Genesis 3: Consequences for Adam and Eve

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Now we come to the point where Adam and Eve begin to experience the consequences of their actions. Some would say these are God's judgments against them. They are being punished, perhaps even cursed, for their disobedience. And somehow each sentence fits the specific crime. The serpent tricked them into eating the forbidden fruit; now the serpent, in turn, will eat dust. The serpent and the woman had a cozy conversation; now her seed and his seed will be enemies. The woman found the tree desirable for wisdom; now she will desire her husband. The man listened to her in taking the apple; now she will have to listen to him because he will rule over her. He accepted the fruit so easily; now he will have to work hard for his food.

The serpent is summarily dealt with first. God said, "Because you have done this, you are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field." We don't hear it in the English translations, but there is another pun with the words used for cunning and cursed. They vary only by the last consonant. This play-on-words suggests that it's cunning that has led to its being cursed. From now on, "upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life." The point of the cursing is one of humiliation and subjugation. This will last for all time, since God said, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall strike your head, and you will strike his heel." While the animosity between snakes and humans is decreed to last forever, there is also a veiled promise here. If you will recall, God had said that they would die if they ate of the fruit. Yet, both the snake and the woman have now been given a promise of descendants. The topic of conversation was their seed. True, they might die at some point, but not before they have produced descendants.

Then, God said to the woman. "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children; and yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you." Scholars are all over the board in their understanding of these verses. Some accept them at face value; others feel they are unredeemable and reflect the entrenched patriarchy of the times, claiming they cannot be God's words. Many scholars have tried to tweak them, in an attempt to remove some of the offensiveness. One notable attempt places this in a primitive setting and recognizes that pioneer women had to work very hard and had to bear a lot of children. Many children died at early ages, and children were needed to help with all the pioneering work. These words in Genesis acknowledge the contribution of women in both these areas. The predomination of man only extends to their sexual behavior. Hard-working women may not want to have any more children, to say nothing of the dangers of childbirth in primitive cultures—yet her desire will be for her husband, and he will predominate over her. The result of their union will be an increase in the labor pool.

In terms of the story, however, we'd have to ask whether these words made any sense to the young couple. Just as they had had no prior knowledge of death, they had no prior knowledge of pain and suffering, or childbirth, for that matter. The words might sound ominous, but the man and the woman had no basis for being able to understand their full import.

What does God say to the man? "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,'
cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life." This closely parallels the sentence of the serpent. The words were patterned the same way; the word "cursed" is present, and since the disobedient act was one of eating, eating figured in the punishment. It is the longest sentence in terms of words. Some feel that is due to the fact that the man had been given the prohibition directly from God. There was no room for misinterpretation. It is also an indication that God did not accept his excuses. The man was still culpable. Previously his job had been to tend and keep the garden. Now he will have endless work in tilling the soil just to eke out enough food to survive. Just as the woman would experience pain in bearing children, the man would experience pain in relation to food. It is the same word that is translated "toil" in God's statement to the woman. In a sense, it is saying that the labor of the field is like the labor of childbirth. Yet, it is also important to point out that although the word "cursed" is used, the man is not cursed. Only the ground is cursed. But the man will certainly reap the effects of the cursed ground. He was formed from this land and certainly was in harmony with it. That sense of unity has been shattered. Nor will this be a temporary situation, since it will last all the days of his life.

Not only will the man have to labor long to till the soil, but also his reward will occasionally be "thorns and thistles." This is the first mention of weeds in God's perfect creation. Up until now, everything had been pleasant to see and good to eat. The final words reflect the irony of his demise. Just as man was formed from the earth, he will decay back into the earth: "for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The result of all this is that the man named the woman "Eve" because she was the mother of all living beings. However, scholars aren't sure about the exact etymology of "Eve." There are almost a dozen possibilities, ranging from the Aramaic association with the word "serpent," to the Arab meaning of "be empty, fail." Most scholars prefer the reading that the name "Eve" is connected with life or living. A literal translation would read, "The man called his woman's name Life, which is the word for Eve, for she is the mother of all that lives." Generally this would be written in poetic form, one line following the other. Hebrew poetry is characterized by parallelism, where the second line oftentimes expands on the first. Eve, then, means the mother of all life. The emphasis would typically be on life. In Eve's case, however, isn't it interesting that it is the connection with "mother" that is emphasized? Yet, Hebrew connects her name with life-giving forces. If that is the case, then this becomes not a condemnation, but a leap of faith in God's grand promise. Let us recall that God had said they would die if they ate of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. To date, Eve has not had any children; we would be hard pressed to consider her the mother of all living beings at this point. But Adam declared a new name for her. He affirmed that they would not be the last of the human race.

In a sense, then, God's next act of making clothes for them out of animal skins was a wonderful act of grace. First, He cared for their needs; then, they were sent out of the garden. It does, of course, raise the question of what kind of skins were used, and did animals have to die in order to provide the skins? The text does not address this issue at all.

Most important, however, God said, " 'See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.' Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden." Once again, God used a plural form in his deliberations. All the earlier arguments fit here as well, and there is little scholarly consensus. It does, however, signify the end of the section, forming an inclusio around the eating of the fruit.

Reading the phrase cherubim's were sent to guard the gate at the east of the garden. This prevented them from eating of the tree of life and gaining immortality, which is bestowed only on the gods.